An Analysis of Dreams by Timothy Findley “We are such stuff as dreams are made on” (Shakespeare The Tempest) perhaps most accurately sums up the human fascination with their own dreams. Fleeting, transitory, and possessing their own reason, these strange passes of fancy strike attention and draw importance to themselves. In Timothy Findley’s short story “Dreams”, the human obsession with, and dependence upon, dreams is taken up in detail. The story can be seen as symbolic in its entirety, with each aspect of the story representing some true part of life.
The main character of Findley’s story is readily seen to be Doctor Mimi Menlo. Doctor Menlo enters the story in the first paragraph as a concerned wife, worried that her husband, Doctor Everett Menlo, is not sleeping at night. The medium for the story is revealed in the second paragraph of the story, when it is revealed that Mimi Menlo is attempting to stay awake through the use of both caffeine and a drug called Dexedrine.
When an amphetamine is substituted for sleep numerous side effects can occur, not least of which are anxiety, restlessness and confusion.
Doctor Mimi has been taking 5 mg of Dexedrine each evening. This drug obviously has an adverse affect, as can be seen by the incredibly realistic and lifelike dream which she has. This dream takes up the rest of the story, and can be interpreted as symbolic of the trials which Mimi is going through in her life.
There are numerous indications that the events of the span of days described are symbolic and representative of Mimi’s inner conflict.
The first, and perhaps most important of these, is Kenneth Albright, her husband’s patient. Kenneth Albright is described as “uniquely schizophrenic” (Findley 112), a man who had attempted suicide four times before he was brought under Everett’s care. Kenneth would represent that element in each of us which is tired of life, and seeks only to end it all. To assign such a role to Kenneth would lead easily into the next symbol, which is Mimi’s own patient, an autistic boy named Brian Bassett.
Mimi has been working with Brian Bassett for a prolonged period of time, and has become (in her own descriptive term) “a surrogate warrior” (Findley 121) for this autistic boy. Brian exists in the real world, and truly is a patient of Doctor Menlo. However, in the dream state, Brian takes on more meaning, and becomes identified with Kenneth Albright as a symbol of that which is tired and hopeless. The story states Brian’s situation as “in the process, now, of fading away “¦ but, of course, the spirit and the will to live cannot be fed by force to those who do not want to feed” (Findley 111).
Mimi has been working a long time with Brian, making no progress. At one point in the story, she even refers to her husband’s trauma as being caused by “something about a patient ” one of his tougher cases; a wall in the patient’s condition they could not break through” (Findley 110). Just as she cannot break through Brian Bassett’s autistic world, her husband cannot break through Kenneth Albright’s schizophrenic delusions to bring him back to the world of light and hope again.
Mimi goes to sleep worrying about her husband, and with thoughts of her own toughest case on her mind. These together provide the fodder for her brain to turn into the dream which is given as the rest of the story.
The approach of the story, told in third person omniscient with a bias towards Mimi’s side of the dream, gives a clue to this interpretation of the dream. While it is certainly possible for the narrator to be third-person omniscient, there is no reason to slant the story toward Mimi unless it is actually told from her perspective. If the story is to be told through the eyes of Mimi, and yet has distinct omniscient elements (the knowledge of what occurs at Everett’s clinic, an understanding of the Menlo’s dog Thurber’s dreams, etc.) then it would follow to assign the entire story to a dream-state. In a dream, it is quite possible for the dreamer to have an omniscient viewpoint, without excluding pathetic fallacy from the picture.
A distinct element of dream-state is given through the death of Brian Bassett. To Brian’s guardian angel, what would be more in character than to want the best for her patient, no matter what the cost? Brian dies, but not before saying “goodbye” (Findley 123) to the one who cared for him the most. To give up someone who is in pain is a difficult lesson to learn, and thus the figure of Brian Basset in the dream becomes identified with the pain and grief which comes through saying goodbye. Brian slides quietly from Mimi’s dream, “a disappearing act” (Findley 131) through which he vanishes forever.
The blood which appears on Everett’s patient Kenneth Albright can be seen as a symbol of suffering. While the story does not state that the Menlos are religious people, during the process of obtaining a doctorate in psychology they would both have studied religion in some form. Nothing else in the human experience has such a profound impact upon the human moral psyche as religion, and as such it remains indelibly marked upon the human psyche. Being knowledgeable about religions would mean that both of the Menlos would be familiar with the idea of propitiation.
In every aspect of Judeo-Christian history, the idea of propitiation comes to the forefront ” “without the shedding of blood is no remission [for sin]” (The Bible Hebrews 9:22). Blood has been seen as a symbol of suffering throughout history, from the first sacrifice offered in the Garden of Eden with the death of a lamb through to the final once-and-for-all death of Jesus Christ, through which all sin was forgiven for all time.
Mimi is quite aware of how much suffering her husband’s patient has gone through, and thus dreams the blood into her dream as a symbol of his suffering. Everett is treating this psychotic patient, and by a process of identification he has obtained the suffering of the man, and has begun to live out this suffering in his own life. This is shown in the story by the blood which has transferred from the person of Kenneth Albright through dreams to the person of Everett Menlo.
This story is placed within a dream world. From the second page, Mimi Menlo is living a dream, in which she rehashes the events of the previous weeks, seeking in some way to find the truth behind her husband’s insomnia. Her conclusions are typically dream-like in that they bear little resemblance to reality beyond the superficiality of the background scenery. Everett and Mimi, as characters in the dream, walk according to different rules than those which govern human beings in the waking world. Scientifically, there is no possible way for blood to have appeared on Kenneth Albright, or for that self-same blood to have been transferred over to Doctor Everett Menlo. Taken in a symbolic sense, however, the entire story unfolds as the strange machinations of Mimi Menlo’s brain.
Mimi has fabricated a dream-world for herself which is comparable in every way to the reality she knows so well. Her dream has become such stuff as life is made on, with the picture it paints frightening to behold. Symbolism is inherent in the dream, from the blood representing suffering to the Menlo’s dog Thurber representing that which is simple and innocent about us. Findley weaves a tapestry of dreams adroitly together with some semblance of reality, and the final product is a fascinating look at the lengths that the human psyche can go to in an attempt to explain the experience known as life.